Library of Congress Launches New Tool to Search Historical Newspaper Images

Looking for information about family members in old newspapers? It can be a tedious task if you search each online newspaper manually. Luckily, automation can save you many hours of tedious searching.

Quoting a new article in the News from the Library of Congress:

“The public can now explore more than 1.5 million historical newspaper images online and free of charge. The latest machine learning experience from Library of Congress Labs, Newspaper Navigator allows users to search visual content in American newspapers dating 1789-1963.

“The user begins by entering a keyword that returns a selection of photos. Then the user can choose photos to search against, allowing the discovery of related images that were previously undetectable by search engines.

“For decades, partners across the United States have collaborated to digitize newspapers through the Library’s Chronicling America website, a database of historical U.S. newspapers. The text of the newspapers is made searchable by character recognition technology, but users looking for specific images were required to page through the individual issues. Through the creative ingenuity of Innovator in Residence Benjamin Lee and advances in machine learning, Newspaper Navigator now makes images in the newspapers searchable by enabling users to search by visual similarity.”

There is a lot more information in the article, including step-by-step instructions, at:


Wow, I can’t believe how poorly this was executed. Then again it is the government. Forget the clunky interface that is more difficult to use than it has to be. It’s just a far worse way to search than is their regular newspaper search and it returns results that are far worse.

I searched for several names knowing what the results SHOULD be there based upon what I know in in their newspaper collection. The search turned up a zero results screen.

Worse yet try searching for Avery. The results will be thousands of hits for bravery and “a very” with just a few actual results for Avery hidden in the mix. There is no way to search for exact match and it doesn’t work with boolean operators.

If this is their best effort they shouldn’t even try.


Frankly by passing the image gimmick and just searching gets better results. The fact that it’s free isn’t relevant. Poorly done is poorly done no matter what the cost.


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